Movie Review – The Nice Guys

For gamobo movie reviews I like to separate each review into three sections: The Good, The Bad, and The <thing that makes the movie unique>. It’s a play on a classic movie title, and it allows me to talk about a film’s overall value in three separate considerations. Usually I have the same amount of discussion in each section, but for The Nice Guys, it’s going to be quite uneven, to put it nicely.

Starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, The Nice Guys is a comedy-crime flick set in the 70s. The premise is that Detective Gosling and Muscle-for-Hire Crowe are looking for a dead porn actress. As the plot skips along, the search for a dead porn actress turns into a search for a live one, culminating in a big conspiracy to pollute the air of Detroit. Well, let’s get this over with.

The Good

-Russell Crowe’s performance is great, but that’s to be expected. He’s an established actor who carries out his job with natural ease.

-There were boobs, and they were nice boobs. Didn’t seem fake or CG or anything. Amazingly, the boobs were also relevant to the plot.

That’s about it.

The Bad

This film never stood a chance. Even before it was shown in theatres it was doomed to fail, because the trailer contained all the good parts. Click the hyperlink and watch it. There is nothing the film does that the trailer doesn’t do better, because the trailer is short and concise, which is a damn shame.

The trailer promised that The Nice Guys was going to be a novel film, equal parts mystery and comedy, and set in a kinky time period. It did its job; I went to the theatre because this premise sounded interesting, and it was backed by two great actors. Unfortunately, this ended up being one of the most disappointing film experiences ever, almost as bad as Terminator 3 and Matrix Reloaded (but not quite).

Come to think of it, they actually don't do a lot of nice things in the film.
Come to think of it, they actually don’t do a lot of nice things in the film.

The movie just isn’t funny. Humour is subjective, so I’ll explain. Drawn out humour a la Family Guy is a dead horse, and just as funny too. The Nice Guys uses this too often, and there are many scenes where they stretch out the joke either with rambling explanations or awkward silences. If you have to wait for me to laugh, the joke probably has already fallen flat. The rambling was just another way of explaining the joke, usually in the form of Gosling stating explicitly what just happened and why. That’s a golden rule of comedy: if you have to explain your joke, it’s dead. Stretching the joke with awkward pauses is sort of like that. Since the film features many instances of these two styles, it felt like I was watching a clown die slowly, trying to get a laugh to the very end, but failing in every regard.

The Ugly

Since the comedy didn’t work, that left the other half of the film’s identity to redeem the entire thing, but unfortunately, The Nice Guys ain’t a good crime story either.

Spoilers for the plot: the whole reason they end up chasing a teenager who made a porn video is because the porno contained information about Detroit’s automotive industry purposefully using environmentally hazardous components in their vehicles. In thinking about this film, I’ve actually realized what makes a bad crime story, and this film has committed two major missteps.

First of all, the stakes never really felt significant. First, it was about finding a mother’s daughter, and that was alright, because anyone can understand the anxiety of a missing child, but neither the victim nor the people asking for help receive any substantial character development, thus limiting how much the audience can sympathize with them. It’s very unlikely that viewers will actually care whether the daughter makes it home safe and sound, as neither the plot nor the characters encourage us to care, not even the daughter herself! It feels more like Crowe and Gosling are just going around doing stuff, and then this happens, and then that happens, and none of it really matters.

A good crime story immerses the audience by getting them invested in the crime’s consequences. In good crime stories, we want the detectives to solve the case usually because the crime was especially dastardly, or solving the crimes infers vindication, character development, or vengeance for the protagonist(s)/victim(s). The crime in this film never really seems to matter, because we never get to learn who two porn actresses are and why they’re important, not until two-thirds of the film is done and suddenly it’s about the environment, which was strange and lame. You can have villains represent things like pollution, corruption, or greed, but it doesn’t work when you spring it on the audience out of nowhere when the film is almost over.

The second major reason why The Nice Guys fails as a crime movie is because neither Crowe’s nor Gosling’s characters ever feel like they are the right men for the job. Crowe is a tough guy, yes, but the only reason he gets involved is because it’s personal for him; the bad guys invaded his home. The movie tries to portray him as having moral principles, but it ends up being awkward and pointless when he’s breaking body parts for money. He doesn’t have a personal or virtuous stake in the plot, so he never feels like the detective we should be rooting for, and neither does Gosling.

His character is actually a detective, but he’s incompetent and willing to take advantage of senile and desperate clients. The only time when he’s likable is when he’s being a father, which is a both a positive and negative testament to Gosling’s acting abilities; he can’t do comedy, but he’s great at drama. It was also very strange how production chose to portray Gosling’s drunken states as something more akin to hallucination-inducing drugs. He’s an alcoholic, a bad father, and an even worse detective. The only attempt to make him sympathetic is a hint that something happened to his wife in the past, but it’s brief and shallow.

Since neither Crowe nor Gosling endear themselves as protagonists we can relate to and/or cheer for, The Nice Guys becomes a crime story without a satisfactory detective character. That’s like Sherlock Holmes with Sherlock, or Batman without Batman.

Here's a nice guy who is both more competent and funnier than two leading protagonists.
Here’s a nice guy who is both more competent and funnier than the two leading protagonists.

In Conclusion…

The Nice Guys fails simultaneously as a comedy and as a crime story. There’s really nothing left after that. It deserves to be commended, however, for not using the terrible character stereotype of the vulgar and swearing kid. At least it did something different that worked. But there was a lot of potential in this film, and it’s a shame that potential was completely exhausted by the trailer.

I recommend this film to anyone who has an extremely generous sense of humour, and maybe die-hard fans of Russell Crowe, as he delivers an on-point performance yet again. For everyone else, you’re not missing out on anything.

This has been a gamobo review.

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